Jasmine Hearn speaks through dance, and in the upcoming months, the dancer and choreographer will share stories of the rites of passage of women of color in America through the contemporary dance series "That's What She Said."
Funded by a grant from the Pittsburgh Foundation, the four-part series is a compilation of experiences, memories and stories of women in the community that will run through October. It also is inspired by her experiences, which are infused throughout the choreography.
"We hear of certain perspectives all the time, done and done and redone over and over again about that one person. You know, that one white straight male," said Ms. Hearn, 24. "So coming from a queer black woman, I was like, 'Let's do something that's coming from my perspective.' "
Each installment will have its own theme and be performed in a different location in Garfield or East Liberty. The series opened last month at a basketball court in East Liberty's Enright Park with "First Dance," a collaboration between Ms. Hearn and another local choreographer, Beth Ratas.
The two women met at an improv jam four years ago and since then they have been in several classes and works together. In 2012 they collaborated on Ms. Ratas' ensemble piece, "I Dare You." Their latest partnership stems from their dance experiences in social settings.
"We were just exploring how did that feel, especially because in these settings, you are identified, you're perceived. If you look like a woman ... you're treated in a specific way," Ms. Hearn said.
For Ms. Ratas, her early exposure to social dance was as a teenager in a club surrounded by friends, thumping music and flashing lights. After the initial excitement wore off, she felt people were using dance as an excuse to grab and touch.
"At certain times these boys would come behind me and start grinding and pushing their pelvis into me, and I just, right from the start, I knew I just did not like that," she said. "I would start to move away from them, and then they'd get me."
Similarly, Ms. Hearn remembers forced male-female interactions and boys touching and grabbing at her when all she wanted to do was dance with her girlfriends.
They wove these experiences along with other social dance experiences into the first show's choreography, which began with the two women dancing closely together in the distance. The moment was shattered when Ms. Ratas climbed the chain link fence surrounding the court, saying, "I didn't want him to do that. I told him not to do that, and he still did it."
When they entered the court, what began as a gentle dance escalated into aggressive movements toward each other. This was punctuated by moments of free and joyful dance where the two women are connected if not by touch then through intense eye contact or movement.
Ms. Hearn is still settling on the themes for the next installments, but she has picked out locations in Garfield. The August installment will be held in New Voices Pittsburgh's office space, and September's offering will be held at Assemble Gallery.
In October, Ms. Hearn wants to explore hair, a topic that has long been an issue for her. Four years ago, she shaved it all off and has kept it shaved. For that installment, she is working to get permission to hold it in the barbershop where she gets her hair cut. She not only wants to explore hair, but also her interactions with the men in the shop.
"I really want to see if I can use that space to respond to all of my situations and problems and acceptances," she said.
Ms. Hearn hopes these non-conventional locations make contemporary dance more realistic and accessible to audiences. She also plans to involve the people who pass through the places featured in the series.
"We will be talking to either the staff of the place that we will be doing the piece in or the clients, customers, asking them about what their experiences have been being a woman or identifying as a female with whatever rite of passage that we chose and getting their feedback, getting their words and hopefully using that in the performance as well because that's really important," she said.
Kitoko Chargois: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1088.